Last week’s article touched on a defect in humanity that spurs a tiny minority to use violence to achieve their ends. This week the focus will be on a similar defect that spurs a different minority to use deception as their tool of choice. I suppose I’d rather be duped than threatened (at least I have a chance of seeing through the deception and walking away) but it is nevertheless any unsavory side of humanity. The power of the Internet has given rise to a new class of conman, the FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) peddler. They are like an Infomercial that doesn’t disclose it’s an Infomercial. These peddlers extend a helping hand, claiming they have access to special, secret knowledge that “they” don’t want you to know about – and they offer it to you all for free! As the saying goes in the Internet era – if the product is free, you’re the product. That’s not always a bad thing (witness Facebook) but it should raise your BS radar when someone is trying to steer you toward or away from certain products. A healthy dose of skepticism is always warranted.

One of the biggest of these Internet phenomenons is the “Food Babe”. Although she has no background in chemistry or biology she speaks and publishes as though she is an authority on those subjects. Her success makes sense: a) we all eat food, b) we all want to be safe and c) nearly none of us has the requisite knowledge base to separate the wheat from the chaff of her information flow (see, I made a food pun there).

By way of example, she recently published an article on the “dangers” of cottonseed oil. Not that hydrogenated oils are particularly healthy in and of themselves (irrespective of their source) but her arguments here are just silly and betray her chemical ignorance. Hydrogenated oil is hydrogenated oil, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Trying to impugn it because the source in this case is ‘not food’ (cotton) is chemically laughable. It’s like saying mined salt from the ground is dirty because we know there is dirt in the ground but salt extracted from the ocean is pure and clean because water is clean. Her argument is incoherent, jumping back and forth between GMOs are bad to pesticides are bad. Well which is it? GMOs allow fewer pesticides to be used. There are ancillary negatives surrounding GMOs (seed patents, government strong arm tactics on behalf of Monsanto, etc.) but those are merely policy issues. GMOs themselves are biologically a non-issue. Those that fear them just don’t understand how chemistry or biology work…and then they peddle that fear to gain followers and links. This article was simply a formulaic anti-GMO screed with cottonseed oil as the vehicle for that screed, she could have written the same article using any GMO crop.

Unless you have a degree in chemistry or biology you’d be hard pressed to spot the BS she is shoveling. I have a degree (Ph.D.) in chemistry. My BS radar immediately went off reading the article. People like her succeed because the general public does not have the time or skillset to uncover the truth, so rather than take a chance they go along with whoever appears to be an “authority.” It’s the same technique politicians use to get elected; an uninformed electorate goes along with whomever sounds best or seems trustworthy. And so in both cases we end up with bad advice and bad policy. Trusting what our fellow man tells us is an admirable trait, it is unfortunate that it is so often abused by those have figured out how to exploit it.